When customer choice is a matter of life and death

07/13/2015

For a long time, Neopost has been urging public and private sector customers to take into account the communications preferences of customers to improve customer service levels, generate better responses and reduce costs. Now, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is saying that doing so could save lives.

In a new report, Contacting Emergency Services in the Digital Age, the IET argues that the public's changing communications habits, notably the transition from landlines to smartphones and the use of text and social media instead of voice calls, necessitate radical changes to the emergency ‘999’ call service.

In particular, it is calling on the emergency services to enter the digital age by creating a cross-platform, data-based service with a standard interface for consumers. It argues that doing so would better serve the needs of younger people and enable calls and messages to be filtered more efficiently.

In announcing the report, Professor Will Stewart, Chair of the IET’s Communications Policy Panel, said: “Communications has changed drastically since the ‘999’ service was designed in 1937 – so there is a critical need to update the service. Ofcom figures show, for example, that 94% of communications from 12-15 year olds is text-based. Given that young people are statistically more likely to be victims of crime or accidents, it is a concern that making a voice call to contact the emergency services is not something that would feel natural to them.”

He added: “A girl alone in a mini cab who becomes worried about her personal safety might feel unable to make a call on her mobile phone – but could send a text or alert someone over social media. And in the case of certain crimes, such as abduction or a break-in, a silent text or app-based alarm system would be more appropriate and instinctive than the current voice-based one for everybody – irrespective of their age.”

Professor Stewart points out that the technology already exists to deliver such a service, but that there is a risk that different emergency services will each do their own thing, resulting in a disparate offering that provides the public with too many choices rather than a universal emergency service.

This concern will be familiar to many private and public sector organisations that have struggled to implement a coherent, enterprise-wide, multi-channel customer communications strategy that supports the preferences of customers and is easy for employees to follow. For most organisations, failure to communicate with customers or prospects via their choice of channel is unlikely to be a matter of life or death, but it can have serious consequences, as the furore now engulfing charities involved in cold calling shows.

According to the Daily Mail, charities – or organisations operating on their behalf – have been hounding elderly and vulnerable people including those who have registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) to avoid being contacted in this way. Such overly aggressive fund-raising tactics are damaging to individual charities and to the whole sector. In its most recent blog post, nfpSynergy, a research consultancy specialising in the non-profit sector, points out that 'trust in charities is at its lowest for eight years'.

Given the existence of solutions for managing multi-channel communications, including those offered by Neopost, there is no excuse for disregarding people's wishes in this way. Doing so might provide a short-term fix, but there will be a high price to pay in the end.

To get advice on how to implement a multi-channel customer communications strategy download Neopost’s latest white paper on Digitisation 

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